Apologies in advance for the vagueness, as I have not read it but only remember fragments of the summary blurb on the back from glancing at it in a bookstore.

What I do remember:

  • It imitated the atmosphere of those 19th century (or early 20th) travel memoirs/notes, but was written either this century or in the late 90's onwards based on the vibe/cover design etc.
  • Was in English
  • The premise is that of an explorer who encounters gradually more corrupted wildlife as he explores the lands
  • I think it took place in an alternate America or at least in an Anglo setting.
  • The cover included painted depictions of a wild scene (i.e. one an explorer would venture into) with a slightly eerie quality

From googling various combinations of keywords, I either get actual 19th century travel memoirs or works like those of Jeff VanderMeer that have to do with the same idea of corruption but aren't the target book. ChatGPT was unable to find it either with the description above.

  • 1
    Hi and welcome to Literature Stack Exchange. When and where did you encounter this book? Last year? A decade ago?
    – verbose
    Commented Feb 25, 2023 at 16:59
  • Hi the question was solved, but to answer your subquestion... I actually don't even remember! Probably in the 5 to 8 year range. It's a very vague memory that suddenly came to the forefront of my mind.
    – Qwokker
    Commented Feb 28, 2023 at 0:43

3 Answers 3


Possibly Darwinia by Robert Charles Wilson?

  • Set in 1912.
  • Published 1998.
  • Starting in America, traveling to an altered Europe.
  • The TOR paperback has a wild coast with steamships.
  • Welcome to Literature, good to have you here :-) Please could you edit your answer to include some more detail about why this matches the OP's description? It's better if an answer is self-confirming without the need for following external links, which might go dead in the future. See also our meta guidelines on story-identification answers.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 14:39
  • Is there anything about corrupted wildlife?
    – bobble
    Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 15:17
  • @bobble, as I recall it was strange forests. I haven't re-read it in many years.
    – o.m.
    Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 15:24
  • Yes, I think this must be it. Or at least I am 95% certain and can't see what else it could be. I now realize my memory of this was a lot more jumbled that I initially assumed. Many thanks for figuring it out despite the vagueness!
    – Qwokker
    Commented Feb 28, 2023 at 0:40

This sounds vaguely like Patricia Wrede's Frontier Magic trilogy, in particular one of the last two books, Across the Great Barrier and The Far West. These books were published in 2011 and 2012, so they are consistent with your time frame for seeing it.

Some differences from your description:

  • the narrator is a woman and not a man,
  • the covers aren't exactly a wild scene, but they are a portrait of the heroine with a wild forest in the background.

It did take place in an alternate America, and it is true in these books that the farther West you go, the more magical and dangerous the wildlife is (although "corrupted" isn't really the correct word).

  • Thank you for this answer. Another user found the book in question below, but I am interested in reading those works you mentioned.
    – Qwokker
    Commented Feb 28, 2023 at 0:41

Your description made me think of The Chrysalids by John Wyndham - it's set in the future rather than the past, but it does have a 19th-ish century America vibe to it as it's set long enough after an apocalypse that the inhabitants don't know what's happened.

The premise doesn't involve an explorer, but the town the protagonist lives in is close to the Fringes, a place where mutations are common. Animals and people in the town with any kind of mutation are killed or sterilised and banished to the Fringes. The kids in the story have also heard tales of sailors seeing much worse the further away they travel.

  • Thank you, I have in fact read the Chrysalids and enjoyed it very much. Turns out the answer was Darwinia by Robert Charles Wilson
    – Qwokker
    Commented Feb 28, 2023 at 0:45

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